Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department will reestablish a Clinton-era committee tasked with sharing and assessing domestic terror threats just days before a Las Vegas-area shooting spree left five dead.
The Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee was first convened in 1995 by Attorney General Janet Reno, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. Holder said the Justice Department's anti-terrorism focus shifted abroad after 9/11, but insisted threats posed by al Qaeda are now diminished thanks to President Obama's "strong and effective anti-terror efforts.
"But we must also concern ourselves with the continued danger we face from individuals within our own borders," Holder continued. He restricted his definition of extremist groups to the far right, defining domestic terrorists as those "motivated by a variety of other causes from anti-government animus to racial prejudice."
The statement, released June 2, came just days before Jerad and Amanda Miller embarked on a deadly shooting spree in Las Vegas, killing two police officers and a Walmart shopper before taking their own lives. Authorities say the couple espoused "anti-government, anti-police" sentiments with white supremacist, militia overtones. Police are also investigating their ties to Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose standoff with federal officers in April made him a hero in extremist circles. The Miller's were briefly present at the Bundy ranch during the standoff.
The American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern after the announcement, and promised to monitor Justice Department activities to ensure groups will not be wrongfully targeted by federal probes. "Attorney General Holder's announcement that the new task force will focus on evidence of anti-government animus and racial intolerance raises concerns that it could be a sweeping mandate to monitor and collect controversial speech," said ACLU staff attorney Lee Rowland.
The ACLU's Gabriel Rottman had harsher words for the committee, telling Reason magazine's Jesse Walker: "Given the already lenient standards for when the government can launch an investigation, the announced task force is both unnecessary and an invitation to investigate Americans for the beliefs they hold, not because of any wrongdoing."
The task force will be composed of officials from Justice's National Security Division, as well as the FBI and a U.S. attorney.